WHEN THE DOVES CRY
(Article for the 4/27/2016 issue of The Seward County Independent)
By The Rev. Dr. Daniel K. Schroeder, Pastor
Mighty Fortress Ev.LutheranChurch
Most people are aware of what happened this past Thursday, April 21st. 57 year-old Prince Rogers Nelson, better known by only his first name "Prince" passed away. He was a singer, songwriter, and a musician; and he won many awards for his work. People know who he was.
During most of the 1980's, I lived in Minnesota less than a hundred miles from him. I saw his rise to stardom, and how the people reacted to him. One of his hit songs "When the Doves Cry" appeared on the scene during that time.
But now at his death, the public mourning and outpouring of sympathy has made national headlines. People are gathered around outside his Minneapolis home. They're leaving flowers, balloons, words of condolence written on cards, and tearfully hugging each other. In various ways, Prince has touched a lot of lives, and he will be missed. Oprah Winfrey and Stevie Nicks were amongst those who said, "This is what it sounds like when the doves cry."
It's interesting to see how society deals with the death of a person, especially someone of notoriety. Using Prince as an example, you'll hear words like, "he's gone, but his music lives on," or "he touched many lives." There's a lot of emotion, but not a whole lot of substance. And that's where the Christian has a bright hope that others don't have.
We have recently celebrated Easter, the day we remember Jesus' victory over death by physically rising from the dead, a feat that nobody else could accomplish on their own. We didn't get stuck at Good Friday with Jesus' crucifixion and death. We aren't standing at a tomb with a huge stone in front of the entrance. We aren't mourning and shedding tears of sorrow.
The tomb is empty because Jesus isn't there. He conquered death, and he won! Jesus says in John 14:19: "Because I live, you also will live." And that's a promise! The Christian looks at the grave and sees more than just a six-foot hole in the ground. What lies beyond it in heaven is what's important. That's why the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus are so vital to the Christian faith. Paul even goes so far as to say in 1 Cor. 15:17: "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins."
We can't be Christian and believe that Christ's body is lying in a grave somewhere in Israel. If it were, then his death would have served no purpose. He would have been just like every other human and not also true God. The price for our sins would not have been paid, and we would have no hope for the future beyond the grave. We would have cause for mourning, and not rejoicing.
The prophet Isaiah writes in 53:5: "But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed."
This is hope that only a Christian can truly have because of what God has promised. Jesus paid the price for your sins and mine by giving his life. He suffered the punishment and death that we deserve. But because of God's grace alone, we don't get what we deserve. Instead, we have complete and total forgiveness, and the hope that takes us beyond the grave and all earthly sorrow. We have this through faith alone in Jesus, and we can add nothing else to that.
A while back, a local funeral director asked me about the phrase so often used in funeral bulletins: "A celebration of the life of (decedent's name)." For the Christian, this means we are celebrating the person's life of faith, their Christian witness, and the promise of the life to come. We give glory to the one who gives this new life, namely Jesus Christ himself. And because of this, we receive comfort for our mourning from the sure and certain promises God gives us in the Bible.
We can certainly honor the memory of someone who has passed away. Back in 2000 Prince himself honored the memory of George Harrison with his memorable and moving rendition of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." And maybe we will gently weep when we hear "Purple Rain" or "Little Red Corvette." He taught himself to play at least 27 musical instruments, he wrote music for himself and other artists, and he loved what he did. He will be missed.
When something like this happens, we can be reassured of our own hope for what lies ahead of us. Jesus has prepared a mansion in heaven for us, which is ours not through our own merit, but only through faith alone because of what Jesus has done for us out of pure love. So with this hope in our heart, we can exclaim: "He Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed! Hallelujah!"